Henry V at the Barbican
Completing the tetralogy of Shakespeare’s histories that director Gregory Doran began two years ago with Richard II, his Henry V is a masterful, simplistic revival. The set is modest and effective, the sound effects kept to a minimum so as not to distract from the actors and, on the whole, the performance is a complete triumph.
Alex Hassle, reprising his role from Henry IV, plays Prince Hal now turned king, commanding the stage. His Harry is inescapably human: the battle-worn king, who inspires his men to follow him “once more into the breach”, dissolves into a stammering school boy when he attempts to woe his beloved Katherine. His rendition of the famous speech “we few, we happy few,” on the eve of his unexpected victory of Agincourt, is stunningly moving and proof that he is one of our finest contemporary stage actors.
Doran has not chosen simply to focus on the dramatic side of things; the comedy is very much present. Oliver Ford Davies provides an excellent Chorus, ambling about the stage with wild gestures in a rumpled cardigan, moving the story along. Pistol (Antony Byrne), Bardolph (Joshua Richards) and Nym (Christopher Middleton), Hal’s former Eastcheap companions, provide an excellent reprieve from the heavier themes. The French too are played mostly for laughs; the Dauphin (Robert Gilbert) sports a ridiculous bowl haircut and minces around eating grapes. Katherine’s (Jennifer Kirby) introduction features an often overlooked piece of humour within the play: in a scene spoken only in French, her Lady-in-waiting stands there giggling as she attempts English. It is a testament to the production that even a scene performed in a foreign language is able to keep the humour intact.
A performance definitely not to be missed.
Photo: Keith Pattison
Henry V is on at the Barbican from 7th November until 24th January 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Henry V here: